Sakhalin Island: Wikis


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Sea of Okhotsk map ZI-2b.PNG
Sakhalin is located in Russia
Sakhalin (Russia)
Location Russian Far East, Pacific Ocean
Coordinates 45°50' 54°24' N
Total islands 1
Area 72,492 km2 (27,989 sq mi)[1] (23rd)
Highest point Lopatin (1,609 m (5,279 ft))
Largest city Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (pop. 174,203)
Population 580,000 (as of 2005)
Density 8 /km2 (21 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups Russians, Koreans, Nivkhs, Oroks, Evenks and Yakuts.

Sakhalin (Russian: Сахали́н, pronounced [səxɐˈlʲin]; Japanese: Karafuto (樺太?) or Saharin (サハリン?)), also Saghalien, is a large elongated island in the North Pacific, lying between 45°50' and 54°24' N. It is part of Russia and is its largest island, administered as part of Sakhalin Oblast. The indigenous peoples of the island are the Sakhalin Ainu, Oroks, and Nivkhs.[2] Most Ainu relocated to Hokkaidō when Japanese were expelled from the island in 1949.[3] Sakhalin was claimed by both Russia and Japan in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, which led to bitter disputes between the two countries over the control of the island.

The European names derived from misinterpretation of a Manchu name sahaliyan ula angga hada (peak of the mouth of Amur River). Sahaliyan means black in Manchu and refers to the Amur River (sahaliyan ula). Its Japanese name, Karafuto (樺太?) comes from Ainu Kamuy-Kara-Puto-Ya-Mosir (Kara Puto), which means "God of mouth of water land". The name was used by the Japanese during their possession of its southern part (1905–1945).




Early history

De Vries (1643) maps Sakhalin's eastern promontories, but is not aware that he's visiting an island (map from 1682)

Sakhalin was inhabited in the Neolithic Stone Age. Flint implements, like those found in Siberia, have been found at Dui and Kusunai in great numbers, as well as polished stone hatchets, like European examples, primitive pottery with decorations like those of the Olonets, and stone weights for nets. Afterwards a population to whom bronze was known left traces in earthen walls and kitchen-middens on the Aniva Bay.

Among the indigenous people of Sakhalin are the Ainu on the southern half, the Oroks in the central region, and the Nivkhs on the northern part.[4] Chinese chronicled the Xianbei  and Hezhe tribes, who had a way of life based on fishing.

The Mongol Empire made some efforts to subjugate the Guwei (Sakhalin) people from 1280s. By 1308, all inhabitants of Sakhalin had surrendered to the Mongols. They paid tributes to the Great Khans until the end of their regime in China (1368).[5] The Chinese in the Ming dynasty knew the island as Kuyi (Chinese: 苦兀pinyin: Kǔwù), and later as Kuye (Chinese: 庫頁pinyin: Kùyè). There is some evidence that the Ming eunuch admiral Yishiha reached Sakhalin in 1413 during one of his expeditions to the lower Amur, and granted Ming titles to a local chieftain.[6] If that was the case, the island would at least nominally be included under the administration of the Nurgal Command Post, which was set up by Yishiha near today's village of Tyr on the Russian mainland in 1411, and operated until the mid-1430s.[6] A Ming boundary stone still exists on the island.[citation needed]

European and Japanese exploration

Display of Sakhalin on maps varied tremendously throughout the 18th century. This map from a 1773 atlas, based on the earlier work by d'Anville, who in his turn made use of the information collected by Jesuits in 1709, asserts the existence of Sakhalin – but only assigns to it the northern half of the island and its northeastern coast (with Cape Patience, discovered by de Vries in 1643). Cape Aniva, also discovered by de Vries, and Cape Crillon (Black Cape) are, however. thought to be part of the mainland

According to Wei Yuan's work Military history of the Qing Dynasty (Chinese: 聖武記pinyin: Shèngwǔ Jì), the Later Jin sent 400 troops to Sakhalin in 1616, after a newfound interest because of northern Japanese contacts with the area, but later withdrew as it was considered there was no threat from the island.

A Japanese settlement in the southern end of Sakhalin of Ootomari was established in 1679 in a colonization attempt. Cartographers of the Matsumae clan created a map of the island and called it "Kita-Ezo" (Northern Ezo, Ezo is the old name of Hokkaidō). The 1689 Nerchinsk Treaty between Russia and China, which defined the Stanovoy Mountains as the border, made no explicit mention of the island. The Qing Empire also claimed sovereignty over the island.[citation needed] However, as the Chinese governments did not have a military presence on the island, people from Japan attempted to colonise the island.

The first European definitely known to visit Sakhalin was Martin Gerritz de Vries, who mapped Cape Patience and Cape Aniva on the island's east coast in 1643. The Dutch captain, however, was not aware of them being on an island, and 17th century maps usually showed these points - and often Hokkaido, too - as parts of the mainland.

As part of a the nationwide Sino-French cartographic program, the Jesuits Jean-Baptiste Régis, Pierre Jartoux, and Xavier Ehrenbert Fridelli joined a Chinese team visiting the lower Amur (known to them under its Manchu name, Saghalien Ula, i.e. the "Black River"), in 1709,[7] and learned from the "Ke tcheng" natives of the lower Amur about the existence of the offshore island nearby. The Jesuits learned that the islanders are said to have been good at reindeer husbandry. They reported that the mainlanders used a variety of names to refer to the island, but Saghalien anga bata, i.e. "the Island [at] the mouth of the Black River" was the most common one, meanwhile the name "Huye" (presumably, "Kuye", 庫頁) they had heard in Beijing was completely unknown to the locals.[8]

The Jesuits, however, did not have a chance to visit the island personally, and the fairly sparse information about its geography provided by the Ke tcheng people and the Manchus who had been the island would not allow them to identify it with the land visited by de Vries in 1643. As a result, many 17th century maps showed a rather strangely-shaped Sakhalin, which only included the northern half of the island (with Cape Patience), while Cape Aniva discovered by de Vries and the "Black Cape" (Cape Crillon) were thought to be part of the mainland.

It was not until the expedition of Jean-François de La Pérouse (1787), who charted most of the Strait of Tartary, but was not able to pass through its northern "bottleneck" due to contrary winds, that the island on European maps assumed a form similar to what is familiar to modern readers. A few islanders La Perouse met near what's today called the Strait of Nevelskoy told him that the island is called "Tchoka" (or at least that's how he recorded the name in French), and it was used on some maps thereafter.[9]

The Russian explorer Adam Johann von Krusenstern visited Sakhalin in 1805, but regarded it as a peninsula.

Alarmed by the visits of European powers, Japan proclaimed its sovereignty over the whole island in 1807. The Japanese say that it was Mamiya Rinzo who really discovered the Strait of Tartary in 1809.

Russo-Japanese rivalry

La Perouse charted most of the south-western coast of Sakhalin (or "Tchoka", as he heard natives call it) in 1787

On the basis of it being an extension of Hokkaidō, geographically and culturally, Japan again proclaimed sovereignty over the whole island in 1845, as well as the Kuril Islands, as there were competing claims from Russia. However, the Russian navigator Gennady Nevelskoy in 1849 definitively recorded the existence and navigability of this strait and — in defiance of the Qing and Japanese claims; Russian settlers established coal mines, administration facilities, schools, prisons, and churches on the island. Japan proclaimed its sovereignty over Sakhalin (which they called Karafuto) yet again in 1865 and the government built a stele announcing this at the northern extremity of the island.

In 1855, Russia and Japan signed the Treaty of Shimoda, which declared that both nationals could inhabit the island: Russians in the north, and Japanese in the south, without a clear boundary between. Russia also agreed to dismantle its military base at Ootomari. Following the Opium War, Russia forced China to sign the Treaty of Aigun ( 1858 ) and Convention of Peking ( 1860 ), under which China lost claim to all territories north of Heilongjiang (Amur) and east of Ussuri, including Sakhalin, to Russia. A katorga (penal colony) was established by Russia on Sakhalin in 1857, but the southern part of the island was held by the Japanese until the 1875 Treaty of Saint Petersburg (1875), when they ceded it to Russia in exchange for the Kuril Islands.

Divided island

Karafuto map.png

After the Russo-Japanese War, Russia and Japan signed the Treaty of Portsmouth of 1905, which resulted in the southern part of the island below 50° N reverting to Japan; Russia retained the other three-fifths of the area.

South Sakhalin was administrated by Japan as Karafuto Prefecture (Karafuto-chō (樺太庁?)), with the capital Toyohara, today's Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, and had a large number of migrants from Japan and Korea.

The northern, Russian, half of the Island formed Sakhalin Oblast with the capital in Aleksandrovsk-Sakhalinsky.

Second World War

Sakhalin Island

In August 1945, according to Yalta Conference agreements, the Soviet Union took over the control of Sakhalin. The Soviet Union attack on South Sakhalin was part of the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation and started on 11 August 1945, four days before the Surrender of Japan and after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The 56th Rifle Corps consisting of the 79th Rifle Division, the 2nd Rifle Brigade, the 5th Rifle Brigade and the 214 Armored Brigade attacked the Japanese 88th Division. Although the Red Army outnumbered the Japanese by a factor of three, they were unable to advance due to strong Japanese resistance. Japan had a strong presence here, and developed much infrastructure.

It was not until the 113th Rifle Brigade and the 365th Independent Naval Infantry Rifle Battalion from Sovetskaya Gavan landed at Tōro (塔路?), a seashore village of western Sakhalin on 16 August, that the Soviets broke the Japanese defence line. Japanese resistance grew weaker after this landing. Actual fighting, mostly petty skirmishes, continued until 21 August. From 22 August to 23 August, most of the remaining Japanese units announced a truce. The Soviets completed the conquest of Sakhalin on 25 August 1945 by occupying the capital, Toyohara. Japanese sources claim that 20,000 civilians were killed during the invasion[citation needed].

Out of some 448,000 Japanese residents of South Sakhalin that lived there in 1944, a significant number were evacuated to Japan during the last days of the war, but the remaining 300,000 or so stayed behind for several more years.[10] While the predominant majority of Sakhalin Japanese were eventually evacuated to Japan in 1946–1950, tens of thousands of Sakhalin Koreans (and a number of their Japanese spouses) remained in the Soviet Union.[11]

No final peace treaty has been signed and the status of four neighboring islands remains disputed. Japan renounced its claims of sovereignty over southern Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands in the Treaty of San Francisco (1951), but claims that four islands currently administered by Russia were not subject to this renunciation. Japan has granted mutual exchange visas for Japanese and Ainu families divided by the change in status. Recently, economic and political cooperation has gradually improved between the two nations despite disagreements.

Recent history

Korean Air Flight 007, a South Korean civilian airliner, flew over Sakhalin and was shot down just west of Sakhalin island near the smaller Moneron Island by the Soviet Union on 1 September 1983 who claimed it was a spy plane. All 269 passengers and crew died, including a U.S. Congressman, Larry McDonald.

On May 28, 1995, an earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale occurred, killing 2,000 people in the town of Neftegorsk.


Sakhalin is separated from the mainland by the narrow and shallow Mamiya Strait or Strait of Tartary, which often freezes in winter in its narrower part, and from Hokkaidō, (Japan) by the Soya Strait or Strait of La Pérouse. Sakhalin is the largest island in Russia, being 948 km (589 miles) long, and 25 to 170 km (16 to 106 mi) wide, with an area of 72,492 km2 (27,989 sq mi)[1].

Its orography and geological structure are imperfectly known. One theory is that Sakhalin arose from the Sakhalin island arc.[12] Nearly two-thirds of Sakhalin is mountainous. Two parallel ranges of mountains traverse it from north to south, reaching 600–1500 m (2000–5000 ft). The Western Sakhalin Mountains peak in Mount Ichara, 1,481 m (4,859 ft) , while the Eastern Sakhalin Mountains's highest peak, Mount Lopatin 1,609 m (5,279 ft), is also the island's highest mountain. Tym-Poronaiskaya Valley separates the two ranges. Susuanaisky and Tonino-Anivsky ranges traverse the island in the south, while the swampy Northern-Sakhalin plain occupies most of its north.

Crystalline rocks crop out at several capes; Cretaceous limestones, containing an abundant and specific fauna of gigantic ammonites, occur at Dui on the west coast, and Tertiary conglomerates, sandstones, marls and clays, folded by subsequent upheavals, in many parts of the island. The clays, which contain layers of good coal and an abundant fossil vegetation, show that during the Miocene period Sakhalin formed part of a continent which comprised north Asia, Alaska and Japan, and enjoyed a comparatively warm climate. The Pliocene deposits contain a mollusc fauna more Arctic than that which exists at the present time, indicating probably that the connection between the Pacific and Arctic Oceans was broader than it is now.

Main rivers: the Tym, 400 km (249 mi) long and navigable by rafts and light boats for 80 km (50 mi), flows north and north-east with numerous rapids and shallows, and enters the Sea of Okhotsk. The Poronai River flows south-south-east to the Gulf of Patience or Shichiro Bay, on the south-east coast. Three other small streams enter the wide semicircular Gulf of Aniva or Higashifushimi Bay at the southern extremity of the island.

The northernmost point of Sakhalin is Cape of Elisabeth on Schmidt Peninsula, while Cape Crillon is the southernmost point of the island.

Sakhalin has one smaller island associated with it, Moneron Island. Moneron, the only land mass in the Tatar strait, 4 1/2 long and 3 1/2 wide, is about 24nm west from the nearest coast of Sakhalin and 41nm from the port city of Nevelsk.


At the beginning of the 20th century, some 32,000 Russians (of whom over 22,000 were convicts) inhabited Sakhalin along with several thousand native inhabitants. The island's population has grown to 546,695 according to the 2002 census, 83 percent of whom are ethnic Russians and followed by Koreans at about 30,000 (5.5%), Ukrainians and Tatars, Yakuts and Evenks. The native inhabitants consist of some 2,000 Nivkhs and 750 Oroks. The Nivkhs in the north support themselves by fishing and hunting.

The capital Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, a city of about 175,000, has a large Korean minority, typically referred to as Sakhalin Koreans, who were forcibly brought by the Japanese during World War II to work in the coal mines. Most of the population lives in the southern half of the island, centered mainly around Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and two ports, Kholmsk and Korsakov (population about 40,000 each).

The 400,000 Japanese inhabitants of Sakhalin (including all indigenous Ainu) were deported following the conquest of the southern portion of the island by the Soviet Union in 1945 at the end of World War II.

Demographics for 2008

  • Births: 6,416
  • Deaths: 7,572 [13]


Owing to the influence of the raw, foggy Sea of Okhotsk, the climate is quite cold, though still considerably less so than inland Siberia. At Dui the average yearly temperature is only 0.5°C (32.9°F) (January -15.9°C [3.4°F]; July 16.1°C [61°F]), 1.7°C (35.1°F) at Kusunai and 3.1°C (37.6°F) at Aniva (January, −12.5°C [9.5°F]; July, 15.7°C [60.3°F]). At Alexandrovsk-Sakhalinsky near Dui the annual range is from 27°C (80.6°F) in July to −39°C (−38.2°F) in January, while at Rykovsk in the interior the minimum is −45°C (−49°F). The rainfall averages 570 mm (22.4 in). Thick clouds for the most part shut out the sun; while the cold current from the Sea of Okhotsk, aided by north-east winds, brings immense ice-floes to the east coast in summer.

Settlement Average January temp. Average July temp.
Alexandrovsk-Sakhalinsky −39°C (−38.2°F) 27°C (80.6°F)
Dui −15.9°C (3.4°F) 16.1°C (61°F)
Aniva −12.5°C (9.5°F) 15.7°C (60.3°F)

Flora and fauna

The whole of the island is covered with dense forests, mostly coniferous. The Yezo (or Yeddo) spruce (Picea jezoensis), the Sakhalin Fir (Abies sachalinsis) and the Dahurian larch (Larix gmelinii) are the chief trees; on the upper parts of the mountains are the Siberian dwarf pine (Pinus pumila) and the Kurile bamboo (Sasa kurilensis). Birches, both Siberian silver birch (Betula platyphylla) and Erman's birch (B. ermanii), poplar, elm, Bird cherry (Prunus padus), Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata) and several willows are mixed with the conifers; while farther south the maple, rowan and oak, as also the Japanese Panax ricinifolium, the Amur cork tree (Phellodendron amurense), the Spindle (Euonymus macropterus) and the vine (Vitis thunbergii) make their appearance. The underwoods abound in berry-bearing plants (e.g. cloudberry, cranberry, crowberry, red whortleberry), Red-berried elder (Sambucus racemosa), wild raspberry and Spiraea.

Bears, foxes, otters and sables are numerous, as are reindeer in the north, and musk deer, hares, squirrels, rats and mice everywhere. The bird fauna is mostly the common east Siberian, but there are some endemic or near-endemic breeding species, notably the endangered Spotted Greenshank (Tringa guttifer) and the Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus borealoides). The rivers swarm with fish, especially species of salmon (Oncorhynchus). Numerous whales visit the sea coast, including the critically endangered Western Pacific Gray Whale, for which the coast of Sakhalin is the only known feeding ground. Other critically endangered whale species known to occur in this area are the North Pacific Right Whale, the Bowhead Whale and the Beluga Whale.


A Japanese D51 steam locomotive outside the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Railway Station


Transport, especially by sea, is an important segment of the economy. Nearly all the cargo arriving for Sakhalin (and the Kuril Islands) is delivered by cargo boats, or by ferries, in railway wagons, through the SSC train ferry from the mainland port of Vanino to Kholmsk. The ports of Korsakov and Kholmsk are the largest and handle all kinds of goods, while coal and timber shipments often go through other ports. In 1999, a ferry service was opened between the ports of Korsakov and Wakkanai, Japan.

Sakhalin' main shipping company is Sakhalin Shipping Company, headquartered in Kholmsk on the island's west coast.


About 30% of all inland transport volume is carried by the island's railways, most of which are currently organized as the Sakhalin Railway (Сахалинская железная дорога), which is one of the 17 territorial divisions of the Russian Railways.

The Sakhalin Railway network stretches from Nogliki in the north to Korsakov in the south. With the existence of a ferry serving Vanino-Kholmsk, Sakhalin has railway connection with the railway network of the rest of Russia. The railways are only now being converted from the Japanese 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge to the Russian 1,520 mm (4 ft 11+56 in) gauge.[14][15] All mainland rolling stock is regauged at Kholmsk. The original Japanese D51 steam locomotives were used by the Soviet Railways until 1979.

Besides the main network run by the Russian Railways, until December 2006 the local oil company (Sakhalinmorneftegaz) operated a corporate narrow-gauge (750 mm) line extending for 228 kilometers (142 mi) from Nogliki further north to Okha (Узкоколейная железная дорога Оха — Ноглики). During the last years of its service it gradually deteriorated; the service was terminated in December 2006, and the line was dismantled in 2007-2008.[16]


A passenger train in Nogliki

Sakhalin is connected by regular flights to Moscow, Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, and other cities of Russia. Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Airport has regularly scheduled international flights to Hakodate, Japan and Seoul and Busan, Korea. There are also charter flights to the Japanese cities of Tokyo, Niigata, and Sapporo and the Chinese cities of Shanghai, Dalian, and Harbin. The island was formerly served by Alaska Airlines from Anchorage, Petropavlovsk and Magadan.

The idea of building a fixed link between Sakhalin and the Russian mainland was first mooted in the 1930s. In the 1940s, an abortive attempt was made to link the island via a 10 km long undersea tunnel.[17] The workers supposedly made it almost to the half-way point[citation needed] before the project was abandoned under Nikita Khrushchev. In 2000, the Russian government revived the idea, adding a suggestion that a 40 km long bridge could be constructed between Sakhalin and the Japanese island of Hokkaidō, providing Japan with a direct connection to the Euro-Asian railway network. It was claimed that construction work could begin as early as 2001. The idea was received skeptically by the Japanese government and appears to have been shelved, probably permanently, after the cost was estimated at as much as US$50 billion.

In November 2008, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev announced government support for the construction of the Sakhalin Tunnel, along with the required re-gauging of the island's railways to Russian standard gauge, at an estimated cost of 300–330 billion roubles.[18]


Sakhalin is a classic "resource economy" relying on oil and gas exports, coal mining, forestry, and fishing. Limited quantities of rye, wheat, oats, barley and vegetables are grown, although the growing season averages less than 100 days.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and economic liberalization, Sakhalin has experienced an oil boom with extensive petroleum exploration and mining by most large oil multinational corporations. The oil and natural gas reserves contain an estimated 14 billion barrels (2.2 km³) of oil and 96 trillion cubic feet (2,700 km³) of gas and are being developed under production-sharing agreement contracts involving international oil companies like ExxonMobil and Shell.

In 1996, two large consortiums signed contracts to explore for oil and gas off the northeast coast of the island, Sakhalin-I and Sakhalin-II. The two consortia were estimated to spend a combined $21 billion U.S. dollars on the two projects which almost doubled to $37 billion as of September 2006, triggering Russian governmental opposition. This will include an estimated $1 billion (US) to upgrade the island's infrastructure: roads, bridges, waste management sites, airports, railways, communications systems, and ports. In addition, Sakhalin-III-through-VI are in various early stages of development.

The Sakhalin I project, managed by Exxon Neftegas Limited (ENL), completed a production-sharing agreement (PSA) between the Sakhalin I consortium, the Russian Federation, and the Sakhalin government. Russia is in the process of building a 136 mile (219 km) pipeline across the Tatar Strait from Sakhalin Island to De-Kastri terminal on the Russian mainland. From De-Kastri it will be loaded onto tankers for transport to East Asian markets, namely Japan, South Korea, and China.

The second consortium, Sakhalin Energy Investment Company Ltd. (Sakhalin Energy) is managing the Sakhalin II project. They completed the first ever production-sharing agreement (PSA) with the Russian Federation. Sakhalin Energy will build two 800 km pipelines running from the northeast of the island to Prigorodnoye (Prigorodnoe) in Aniva Bay at the southern end. The consortium will also build, at Prigorodnoye, the first ever liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant to be built in Russia. The oil and gas is also bound for East Asian markets.

Sakhalin II has come under fire from environmental groups, namely Sakhalin Environment Watch, for dumping dredging material in Aniva Bay. The groups were also worried about the offshore pipelines interfering with the migration of whales off the island. The consortium has (as of Jan 2006) re-routed the pipeline to avoid the whale migration. After a doubling in the projected cost, the Russian government threatened to halt the project for environmental reasons.[19] There have been suggestions that the Russian government is using the environmental issues as a pretext for obtaining a greater share of revenues from the project and/or forcing involvement by the state-controlled Gazprom. The cost overruns (at least partly due to Shell's response to environmental concerns), are reducing the share of profits flowing to the Russian treasury. [1] [2] [3] [4]

In 2000, the oil and gas industry accounted for 57.5% of Sakhalin's industrial output. By 2006, it is expected to account for 80% of the island's industrial output. Sakhalin's economy is growing rapidly thanks to its oil and gas industry. By 2005, the island had become the largest recipient of foreign investment in Russia, followed by Moscow. Unemployment in 2002 was only 2%.[citation needed]

As of 18 April 2007 Gazprom have taken a 50% plus one share interest in Sakhalin II by purchasing 50% of Shell, Mitsui and Mitsubishi's shares.

International partnership

See also


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ "The Indigenous Peoples" – The Sakhalin Regional Museum —
  3. ^ Reid, Anna. The Shaman's Coat: A Native History of Siberia. New York, New York: Walker & Company. 2003. pp.148–150 ISBN 0-8027-1399-8
  4. ^ Gall, Timothy L. Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Inc. 1998. pp.2–3. ISBN 0-7876-0552-2
  5. ^ Brett L. Walker-The Conquest of Ainu Lands, p.133
  6. ^ a b Shih-Shan Henry Tsai, "Perpetual Happiness: The Ming Emperor Yongle". Published by University of Washington Press, 2002. ISBN 0-295-98124-5 Partial text on Google Books. P. 158–161
  7. ^ Jean-Baptiste Du Halde, Description géographique, historique, chronologique, politique, et physique de l'empire de la Chine et de la Tartarie chinoise, enrichie des cartes générales et particulieres de ces pays, de la carte générale et des cartes particulieres du Thibet, & de la Corée; & ornée d'un grand nombre de figures & de vignettes gravées en tailledouce, Vol. 1 (La Haye: H. Scheurleer, 1736). (p. xxxviii in Vol. 1)
  8. ^ Description géographique, historique, chronologique, politique, et physique de l'empire de la Chine et de la Tartarie chinoise, enrichie des cartes générales et particulieres de ces pays, de la carte générale et des cartes particulieres du Thibet, & de la Corée; & ornée d'un grand nombre de figures & de vignettes gravées en tailledouce, Vol. 4 (La Haye: H. Scheurleer, 1736). Pp. 14-16. The people whose name the Jesuits recorded as Ke tcheng ta tse ("Hezhen Tatars") lived, according to the Jesuits, on the Amur below the mouth of the Dondon River, and were related to the Yupi ta tse ("Fishskin Tatars") living on the Ussuri and the Amur upstream from the mouth of the Dondon. The two groups might thus be ancestral of the Ulch and Nanai people known to latter ethnologists; or, the "Ke tcheng" might in fact be Nivkhs.
  9. ^ La Pérouse, Jean François de Galaup, comte de (1831), de Lesseps, Jean Baptiste, ed., Voyage de Lapérouse, rédigé d'après ses manuscrits, suivi d'un appendice renfermant tout ce que l'on a découvert depuis le naufrage, et enrichi de notes par m. de Lesseps, pp. 259–266, 
  10. ^ James Forsyth, A History of the Peoples of Siberia: Russia's North Asian Colony 1581-1990. Cambridge University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-521-47771-9 On Google Books . P. 354
  11. ^ George Ginsburgs, The Citizenship law of the USSR Citizenship law of the U.S.S.R Law in Eastern Europe. BRILL, 1983, ISBN 90-247-2863-0. On Google Books Pp. 320–325.
  12. ^ Ivanov, Andrey (March 27, 2003). "18 The Far East". in Shahgedanova, Maria. The Physical Geography of Northern Eurasia. Oxford Regional Environments. 3. Google Books: Oxford University Press. pp. 428–429. ISBN 978-0198233848.,M1. Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Sakhalin Railways" – JSC Russian Railways
  15. ^ "Steam and the Railways of Sakhalin Island" – International Steam Locomotives
  16. ^ Узкоколейная железная дорога Оха — Ноглики (Okha-Nogliki narrow-gauge railway)
  17. ^ Moscow Times "Railway a Gauge of Sakhalin's Future"
  18. ^ Russian President wants to connect Sakhalin to the Mainland (Russian)
  19. ^ Russia Threatens To Halt Sakhalin-2 Project Unless Shell Cleans Up: Environmental groups have protested that the project damages the natural habitat of the endangered Western grey whale and harms fishing, a key industry for the people of Sakhalin AFP, Sep 26, 2006

Further reading

  • C. H. Hawes, In the Uttermost East (London, 1903). (P. A. K.; J. T. BE.)
  • A Journey to Sakhalin (1895), by Anton Chekhov, including:
    • Saghalien [or Sakhalin] Island (1891–1895)
    • Across Siberia
  • Sakhalin Unplugged (Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, 2006) by Ajay Kamalakaran

External links

Coordinates: 51°00′N 143°00′E / 51°N 143°E / 51; 143

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Sakhalin article)

From Wikitravel

Zhdanko Ridge from a helicopter
Zhdanko Ridge from a helicopter

Sakhalin (Russian: Сахалин), formerly known as Karafuto (樺太) to the Japanese, is a large and very sparsely populated island which was the center of a long power struggle between Russia/USSR and Japan for control of its large oil and gas resources. Sakhalin is beautiful, but has an undeveloped tourist sector. Because of the energy business, however, good food and hotels catering to foreigners are available.

Map of Sakhalin
Map of Sakhalin
  • Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk — the oblast's administrative capital and largest city
  • Alexandrovsk-Sakhalinsky — home to famous writer Anton Chekhov during his stay in Sakhalin
  • Kholmsk — Sakhalin's western port
  • Korsakov — Sakhalin's southern port
  • Nogliki — An oil city on the northern end of the railway line
  • Okha — northernmost town of Sakhalin Island and booming oil hub


Sakhalin has been inhabited by several indigenous tribes since the stone age, The Ainu people, also present on Hokkaido in Japan, populated the southern half of the island, and while a small group of Sakhalin Ainu is still present on the island, most were repatriated to Japan after the end of WWII. The largest group of the islands original population is the Nivkh tribe of the northern taigas.

Sakhalin has long been the scene of a power struggle between the major Asian powers: Russia, Japan and even the Chinese Qing Empire have put forward claims on the island. In the 17th century both Japan and Russia started colonizing the island, from different ends, dividing the island into a northern Russian part and a southern Japanese part. Aside from a 25 year period at the end of the 19th century, the island remained divided until the waning days of WWII, when Soviet troops broke through the defensive line and invaded the Japanese half. After the end of the war, the Japanese and Ainu people were forcefully repatriated to Japan, while a sizable Korean minority – brought by the Japanese into forced labour camps – remained on the island and were denied repatriation until the last years of Soviet rule, though many still remain on Sakhalin.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Sakhalin has experienced an oil boom with Russian and foreign oil companies pouring into the island, bringing with it much needed investment in the islands infrastructure. This comes with a price though, as pipelines and logging pose a significant threat to the island's spectacular nature. There have also been complaints that the many oil dollars pouring in aren't benefiting the island's population.


Thanks to the cold and raw Sea of Okhotsk which surrounds the island, the climate on Sakhalin is generally cool and humid. In the depth of winter the average temperature ranges from a bearable –6°C in the south to a bone chilling –24°C in the north, while temperatures as cold as –54°C have been reported. In the summer temperature rarely exceeds +19°C, often much cooler and floating ice can be observed around the island, even in the height of summer. Generally the north is much colder than the south, in part due to a warm current running along the Tartar strait in the southern end, the winter is a full 2 months longer in the North (October-May). The annual precipitation ranges between 600-1200 mm, and snowfall can be heavy – in the mountains accumulation of 5 meter snow or more is not unusual.

A critically endangered Western Pacific gray whale breaching off the coast
A critically endangered Western Pacific gray whale breaching off the coast

At more than 70,000 km2, Sakhalin is Russia's largest island. From the 40 km La Pérouse Strait separating Sakhalin from the Japanese island of Hokkaido, the island stretches nearly 1000 km northwards in a long and narrow shape along the mainland's east coast. It's quite mountainous with two low mountain-ranges running parallel to each other separated by a valley tract. To tje north the island flattens into a swampy taiga, while the central part of the island is densely forested.

These central forests are home to more than 2000 Sakhalin brown bears, which are often spotted even on the outskirts of the cities. Otters and sables are also common sightings. Up north there are numerous reindeer, many of them are herded by the indigenous Nivkhi tribe. Whales are also a common sighting along the east coast of the island, and Sakhalin is the only known feeding ground of the west pacific colony of the Gray Whales. Other whales spotted around the island include the Right Whale, the Bowhead Whale and the Beluga Whale, and up on the shores it's possible to spot Northern fur seals and sea lions.

Indigenous Reindeer herders racing down a Sakhalin road
Indigenous Reindeer herders racing down a Sakhalin road

The Nivkh are the only remaining significant indigenous ethnic group, of a population that previously also included the Ainu and Orok people: around 5000 live on Sakhalin, mainly in the northern taigas, with the village of Nekrasovska near Okha being the largest remaining community. They are traditionally a semi-nomadic people, living near the coasts in the summer and wintering inland along streams and rivers to catch salmon; but in no small part thanks to Soviet centralist policies, and pollution of their natural habitats and food sources, the Nivkhs now live in mixed population villages and faring a fairly modern life style, and only a handful of principally anthropological factors have so far averted their total assimilation. Their unique language, which has not been proven to be related to any other language on Earth, is also under threat, and less than 20% of the Nivkh can speak it fluently.

It's not all doom and gloom – there has been a revival of Nivkh culture in recent years, and many Nivkhs are actively involved in the restoration of their cultural traditions and language, which is largely shamanistic and animist, with ties to Mongolian traditional beliefs. According to Nivkh legends, Sakhalin is a giant beast lying on its belly with the trees of the island as its hair. When the beast is upset, it awakens and trembles the earth causing earthquakes.


Anton Chekov


As elsewhere in Russia, Russian is the predominant language, but there are also an estimated 30,000 Koreans, although many do not speak Korean. They are mostly centered on the island capital, which also hosts a sizable minority of Azerbaijanis - especially, it seems, among taxi drivers. Due to the proximity to Japan, you may also find staff in upmarket hotels and restaurants in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk with at least some understanding of Japanese.

Get in

For visa requirements, see Russia.

Eins Soya - the ferry connecting Sakhalin with Japan during summer
Eins Soya - the ferry connecting Sakhalin with Japan during summer

While Stalin attempted to construct a tunnel under the Tartar strait with forced labour from the Gulags in eastern Siberia, construction was abandoned after a few kilometres had been completed, and while there is intent to finish the project eventually, no money is forthcoming and for now the only options are to sail or fly.

By boat

There are several ferry routes connecting the mainland with Sakhalin, but unless you posses time, patience, and Russian skills in abundance, your choice is pretty much limited to the daily ferry service between Vanino on the mainland, and Kholmsk on the islands western coast. Vanino is linked with the rest of the Russian railway network by a daily service to Vladivostok, with stops in Komsomolsk and Khabarovsk en route. In the summer months another option is a Japanese operated ferry service linking Korsakov on the shore of Aniva Bay, at the southern tip of the island, with Wakkanai on the northern tip of Hokkaido.

By plane

The booming oil industry has ensured an unusual abundance of options to reach a destination as remote, and sparsely populated, as Sakhalin. The airport in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk has connections not only to major cities in the Russian Far East, but also flights to Japan, Korea and China several times per week. If you are dubious about flying with a Russian airline, the only other option is the weekly Asiana flight from Seoul, South Korea.

Get around

Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is the main hub for all means of transportation. Local and regional buses, charter minibuses, and trains all depart from the Station in the city center,

By plane

SAT Airlines (Sakhalinskie Aviatrassy) [1], the island's native carrier, operates flights between its main hub in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and the oil hubs Okha and Nogliki on the northern part of the island.

By train

Sakhalin has an extensive railway network, much of it built by the Japanese. Services are scattered and infrequent, but a daily train (#001 & #002) connecting Nogilky and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is still the main mode of transport between the south and north part of the island. While there is a railway line between Kholmsk and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, it's in a sorry state, and carries no traffic. Railway enthusiasts wanting to continue their journey by railway after disembarking the ferry need to catch a once or twice daily connection to Tomari (#1611) 80 km to the north, then take another once daily train (#123) from there to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk or Korsakov – but unless you are a truly dedicated railway buff, this huge detour is probably not worth the effort. This situation could improve in the future though, as a 1 billion ruble refurbishment plan of the main line is in the works.

You can check the current railway schedule at the Russian Railways website [2], but the transliteration is weird, and to get Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to show up you need to type in the first 5 letters, rather than the first 3 it asks for.

  • Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk - (JUZHNO SAKHAL/Ю́жно-Сахали́нск/2068400), 0 hours, 0 km
  • Tymosk - (TYMOVSK/Тымовский/2068493), 491 km, 10½ hrs., trains: 001/002, 601/602
  • Nogliki - (NOGLIKI/Ноглики/2088498), 613 km, 13 hrs., trains: 001/002
  • Korsakov - (KORSAKOV/Корса́ков/2068450)), 39 km, ¾ hrs., trains: 123/124,

By bus

While train is the mode of transport for longer trips, short trips are mainly done by bus. On the southern part of the island road conditions are fairly good, and many destinations can be easily reached from the bus terminal in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, offering departures for the ports of Korsakov and Kholmsk every 30-60 minutes throughout most of the day, Nevelsk six times daily, Makarov once daily, and several other smaller cities at varying intervals. If you speak Russian, call (4242) 722553 for details. Further north, buses bound for Alexandrovsk-Sakhalinsky and Okha connect to the daily train in Tymovsk and Nogilki respectively, but remember to check if official permits are needed if you leave the main transport corridor along the main railway line and road.

An alternative the the public buses are the many private marshruthkas (minibuses), which also do intercity trips. They cost around double of the buses, have no schedules and tend to be more crammed - but on the plus side they are usually faster, more frequent and more comfortable than the often worn out public buses. A simple "marshrutka City name?" should suffice in getting locals pointing you in the right direction.

  • Lake Tunaycha (Озеро Тунайча). An easy escape from the gray concrete of the island capital, the Lake Tunaycha region is only 45 km south east of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. This string of shallow lakes, including the islands largest fresh water lake, runs along Sakhalin's western coast line, and is a favorite with bird watchers and outdoor enthusiasts alike, though, as is the case with most other sights on the island, you'll need to figure out transportation for yourselves – if you can find a Mastruska bound for Svobodnaya or Okhotskoye you'll be in good shape, otherwise enlist a tour agency, there are plenty that offers tours here.
The island of Moneron off Sakhalin's southwestern coast
The island of Moneron off Sakhalin's southwestern coast
  • Moneron Island (Остров Монерон), known in Japanese as Kaibato (海馬島). A small unpopulated island southwest of Kholmsk, popular with divers, snorkellers, and bird watchers. It's Russia's first marine park, owing its existence to an array of underwater reliefs and the warm Tsusimskoye current that ensues an abundance of underwater wildlife, even subtropical species, and some fantastic plants. Although poaching is an increasing problem for this natural environment, it's still well worth a visit, and often has 30-40 meters of visibility. Above the water the scenery is quite enchanting with dramatic rock formations, waterfalls, rocky canyons and alpine meadows. The island has numerous bird colonies and is a breeding ground for sea lions. Access requires a chartered boat, which usually leaves from Nevelsk, 50 km south of Kholmsk. Sakhalin Diving in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk can help with arrangements to dive here, and the State Park Agency opened a new tourist facility on the island in 2009.
    • Moneron State Park Agency (Природный парк остров Монерон), +7 (4242) 72-83-80.  edit
  • Tyuleniy Island (Остров Тюлений, Seal island). Takes its name from the breeding grounds of the rare Northern Fur Seal, it's one of largest rookeries of fur seal and sea lions left in the world, and also sports many species of birds for the ornithologically inclined. There is a small Russian research station [3] on the island, with blinds for observing the wildlife. The island is located some 19 kilometres south of the Terpeniya peninsula's cape, in pretty rough sees. You'd either have to go with a rare tour or charter a boat for yourself to visit here. Your best bet to make your own arrangements are probably from the station town of Makarov, but that is a wild shot.
    • Tourism development agency (Центр содействия развитию туризма), +7 (4242) 48-68-89.  edit
Northern fur seals on the Tyuleny rookery - yes, those are all seals, not rocks
Northern fur seals on the Tyuleny rookery - yes, those are all seals, not rocks
  • Vaida Mountains (Гора Вайда) The Vaida mountain ridge is part of the heavy forested Smirnych nature reserve, roughly half way up the island, at what used to be the division between the Japanese and Russian Sakhalin (it's known in Japanese as Okada-yama (岡田山)), and a scene of heavy fighting. These days it's more peaceful although heavy foresting has taken its toll on the unprotected parts of the area. Its two peaks, though less than a kilometre tall, are the highest in the area. While its uniqueness in geological terms stems from its 24 karst cavities, for the less geeky the real attraction is its spectacular caves (particularly the Vaida Cave) with impressive stalactites, stalagmites and petroglyphs; various artifacts have been found in the caves. The scenery above ground is rather spectacular with many alpine plants and some pretty lakes dotted here and there for good measure. There is a daily train serving the station in Smirnych, from where you will have to arrange your own wheels to the small village of Izvestkoviy, and start your hike from there. If you plan to venture into the caves, which is probably why you would want to come here in the first place, you would want an organised tour providing a guide, and the necessary safety equipment – try Miskha Tours but be prepared for some language difficulties.
    • Miskha Tours (Мишка тур), +7 (4242) 461770, [4].  edit
  • Zhdanko Ridge (Хребет Жданко) is a spectacular ridge north of the village Tikhaya. It's protected state territory and was created by molten magma rising through cracks but not allowed to surface through the crust, which instead eventually collapsed (under the wind and water), and formed a 13 kilometre elongated ridge, only 1-2 kilometres wide of solidified magma. It's an unusual landscape of volcanic rock formations, hardened lava flows, sudden 30 metre vertical drops and many beautiful waterfalls, up to 50 metres tall. In spring the dark volcanic rocks, contrasted by the light-green grass and tress, provide some amazing vistas. There is a good 2-3 day hike leading over a mountain pass to the north of the area. If you can can manage a spot on the post train (#951) it stops in Tikhaya around noon.
The southwestern side of Sakhalin's amazing coastline
The southwestern side of Sakhalin's amazing coastline

Sakhalin has plenty of stunning natural scenery to offer. However, transportation out in the wilderness of Sakhalin requires patience, and a lot of careful and thoughtful planning. An easier alternative is shelling out the extra cost for enlisting the aid of a local tour operator.

  • Diving - Moneron Island, close to the city of Kholmsk, is a marine park that offers some unique diving; there is a dive shop in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk that can help with arrangements. Most other location and dive sites are restricted by politics: because of the close proximity to and sometimes heated relationship with Japan, the border guard needs to approve diving elsewhere, in practice ruling out this option.
  • Rafting - Bykovsky Rapids on the Krasnoarmeyka River, near the city of Bykov some 50 kilometers north of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk offers good class 4 or 5 rafting. There are no permanent facilities, so you need to go on a tour from the island's capital, where they bring rafts and safety equipment to the starting point with 4x4s. It's also possible to do rafting on the Lyotoga river - starting point is the small village of Pyatirechye, just 35 kilometers due west from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on the P-495 road, and tours usually end in Petropavlovskoye, a few kilometers before the river flows into the Aniva bay. Rafting season for most of the island mainly runs from early May to late June, when the rivers are awash with melting snow from the mountains.


The cuisine on Sakhalin is largely influenced by the traditional Russian kitchen, and in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk a wide variety of international restaurants is available. But for some local color in your meal, dive into the seafood! Freshly caught fish from the rivers - especially salmon - are widely available in season, and often dirt cheap. Look for 'Крабы' (Crab), 'Копченый лосось' (Smoked salmon), 'Корюшка жарится' (Fried Smelt) and Красная икра (Red caviar) on the menu to sample some of the islands delicious seafood. Up north, you can try the indigenous cuisine of the Nivkh tribe which also features fish, but in interesting varieties such as dried (madjir-ma/юкола) and iced fish (kyn-cho/троганина), and also seal, reindeer, and bear meat with mushrooms and wild berries like Crowberries (yghygh-alrh/шикша) and Blueberries (Голубика)

Yuzhno-Sakhalin, due to its large population of stranded Sakhalin Koreans, reputedly has very good Korean cuisine.


The Kolos brewery in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk makes some excellent beers, particularly their Bir Rinzo and Pivzavod Sahalinskij, but in the newly acquired Russian tradition, they pump out 10 other brands from their hoses as well, and serve them on their own brewpub on the brewery grounds on Sakhalinskaya Street [5]. Interestingly Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is not the only city with its own beer – almost every major town on the island, despite their modest size, has a local brewery.

"What civilian? It has flown over Kamchatka!..."

With those words started one of the one of the hottest incidents of the Cold War, when Korean Air Lines Flight 007, due to series of pilot errors had entered Soviet airspace and was shot down over Sakhalin by Soviet fighters, even after it had luckily escaped the fighters over Kamchatka due to poor weather. After a brief period of suspense worthy of a film, the plane plummeted into the sea near Moneron Island, killing all 269 on board. Probably the only time this remote part of the world ever was - and ever will be - on everyone's lips.

As far as people go, Sakhalin is a fairly safe place when outside the capital, which has the highest juvenile crime rate in the entire federation. Much of Sakhalin is true wilderness, far from the nearest doctor and even further from an English speaking one. The arctic tundra in the north can even in the summer experience rapid temperature drops, especially when the sun sets, but even a change of wind direction can send sudden shivers through your spine, or much worse.

Bears roam the forests across the entire island, and always pose a danger. The most important thing in this respect is never to surprise a bear. Sing, call out in regular intervals or wear a bell. Save the odd lunatics, bears rarely seeks confrontations with humans and will normally shy away when hearing one. If you do encounter one, make sure it sees you (it will smell you soon enough anyway), hold you hands above you head to make yourself as big as possible, and slowly back away while avoiding any sudden movements – don't trip or run! Make sure any food is packed away in airtight containers or plastic bags.

If you require medical attention, head for Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, as there are many expat workers from the oil industry here, and the medical facilities that come with them. In an emergency in the northern part of the island, the oil processing plants in Nogliki and Okha are your best bets, they may not be very welcoming, but they are used to dealing with foreign staff and have airlift capabilities – cash is king, but a medical/travel insurance certificate should also help.

  • Kuril Islands — see what few travelers ever get to see, and catch a plane or the twice monthly ferry to Kunashir island, in the Kurils chain of islands. One of the world's most unique natural habitats, including flora and fauna native to Japan, but long lost in Japan's quest of industrialization.
  • Japan — With a seasonal ferry service to Wakkanai in Japan, Sakhalin is a good transit point for overland journeys done on the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Russia to Japan via Sakhalin itinerary has the details.
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